You may be wondering how a burn survivor becomes a yoga instructor. You may also be wondering why a yoga instructor wants to create a blog about being a burn survivor. Well, quite simply, yoga is a part of my burn survivor journey. I feel compelled to share what I have learned along my journey with those who suffer. The only way I can make sense of my suffering is to believe that God would like to use my suffering to help others. Katherine Wolf, a woman with an incredible story of resilience once said, "The trail that you get to blaze through with your dark suffering will illuminate the path for someone else through their darkness." How can I not share what has helped me?
It all began years ago when I was a 3rd-grade school teacher. Many of the teachers would gather in the cafeteria after school to take classes from, what seemed to me, like a very picky yoga instructor. At the time, it seemed like I really just struggled to get my Mexican blanket to fold the right way and spent the entire time questioning whether I was holding the pose correctly. Turns out years later I would learn she was an Iyengar yoga instructor where alignment and correct posture is very important. Over the years, my yoga experience changed as often as I changed yoga instructors. Each had her own style. I began to discover that my favorite was Vinyasa, with poses that seemed to flow from one to the next while synchronizing the breath. It was both challenging and relaxing.
So, back in September of 2019, when I woke up from an induced coma, I found myself in a burn unit with a physical therapist and PT student instructing me to move my body. I was wrapped up like a mummy at the time and I felt like I had no strength at all. The real challenge was that my skin was not allowing me to move. It was like I was frozen like a statue, making it very painful. I began taking deep breaths as I tried to reach up and then exhaling out the pain. I would do this over and over as instructed. Very slowly, I began making tiny incremental gains. Fueled by my fear of becoming stuck with no mobility for the rest of my life, I did my physical therapy on my own in my hospital room. After my hospital stay, I went on to an intense rehabilitation facility and then back home to outpatient physical therapy until my insurance ran out.
Within a couple of months, I could no longer get the physical therapy I still desperately needed. I was worried my progress would diminish and decided to sign up for a membership at the local YMCA and join the yoga classes. After all, my physical therapists all commented on how well the breathing techniques I had learned in all of those years of yoga seemed to help me push through the physical therapy. Besides that, some of the exercises in physical therapy reminded me of yoga. It seemed like a good transition.
It turned out that this was a great move! My fellow yogis at the Y were very supportive and I felt like they would miss me if I didn't show up, (which was great for accountability). I was pretty ashamed of my scars, however, and covered myself from the neck down and wondered what other burn survivors did when their insurance ran out or if they had insurance at all. Would they be ashamed to go out in public? Would they be willing to join a gym? It took a lot of courage for me to just show up, but I just could not simply sit at home and use the worksheets provided to me by the physical therapists. It was just too depressing to spend hours doing stretches along with pictures.
"I learned how improving my strength, balance, and flexibility on my yoga mat was actually helping me learn to improve inwardly.
Everything was going great and I was making great progress. I was a step behind everyone, but I felt safe in the yoga studio to listen to my own body and go at my own pace. I was getting more and more mobility by practicing what I learned at home. It was very relaxing and made me feel like I was doing all that I could to get better. But then, something happened. There was a worldwide pandemic. It shut everything down. This event, combined with my own disappointment that my home physical therapy was reduced to worksheets, led me to yoga teacher training. I knew attending the teacher training would keep me doing yoga and I saw a way for me to help fellow burn survivors or really anyone who had faced trauma how to get the most out of their yoga practice and healing journey. I started training in January of 2021, and the real yoga journey began. I learned how improving my strength, balance, and flexibility on my yoga mat was actually helping me learn to improve inwardly!
My yoga training teacher determined that we all had to have 40 hours of yoga classes recorded so that we could experience different styles of yoga and process what we liked or didn't like about a class. This was very beneficial and life-changing. I began journaling after each class and assessing what I would like to try when I would someday become a teacher. One day, I became especially emotional. See the following journal entry:
"God is so good to me."
January 19, 2021 "During a reach-up pose, I had a flashback of PT (physical therapy) in the hospital. I recognized I have come a long way. I had tears that poured out of my eyes for the rest of class. God is so good to me."
Guess what was going on there? I was in a Warrior 1 yoga pose for strength and I was experiencing joy because I knew God had taken care of me and helped me find the healing that allowed me that kind of mobility. I remembered back when I had to use my right hand to lift up my left arm. I couldn't bend or straighten it. It was stuck at a 90-degree angle. I couldn't even raise it over my head. I had come a long way and I saw how strong I was on the mat. But more than that, I had developed inner strength along the way. I had spent time every morning with prayers of gratitude and set an alarm every afternoon to go off so that I would spend time in gratitude again. When you have little, you learn to be grateful for a lot.
I learned so much during my yoga teacher training about strength, balance, and flexibility on and off the mat and I would like to share them with you in a 3-part blog series.
Let's begin with the first one of the 3 Things You Can Improve On & Off The Yoga Mat:
5 Yoga Poses to Help Build STRENGTH on the Mat:
Warrior 1 helps you build focus, power, and stability.
Mountain Pose helps you improve your posture, alignment, and balance.
Downward Dog helps you stretch your hamstrings, calves, and ankles.
Plank helps you build core strength.
Crow helps you strengthen your arms and wrist and stretches your upper back.
See my Instagram story for examples! https://www.instagram.com/burn.survive.thrive/
Now I would like to share some things you can try to help you develop INNER STRENGTH off the yoga mat!
10 Healthy Habits to develop STRENGTH off the Mat:
Meditating on God's Word. I encourage you to write out favorite Bible verses on post-it notes and try to memorize them. You will find them very useful when you need to focus on a Biblical truth or promise (see my blog The Power of Prayer). Or, you may want to read your Bible along with a friend or join the Facebook Group Excel Still More: A Chapter A Day and read along. You can read a chapter and then read the comments from those who have read it as well and perhaps learn something. Here's a link if you'd like to join me! https://www.facebook.com/groups/148259158529952
Journaling. I am not one to keep up a journal. I have several that I written in for 3-5 pages. I get off track. I do however feel that journaling can help people process what's going on in their lives better. When I look back at things I have written, it's a real treasure and I can see how well things in my life have fit together. I am currently using the Excel Still More Journal. It's perfect for me! It has small places for you to record things like what you did yesterday, a place to ask "beautiful questions", Bible reading and notes, what your schedule is for today, what BIG thing you need to accomplish today "Eat That Frog", a daily highlight, "Level 3" gratitude (more on that later) and your affirmation. If you would like to order one of the ESL journals, check out the link here: https://excelstillmore.life/
3. Prayer. Drawing near to God strengthens your relationship with Him. Seeing your prayer requests turn into praises is very faith-building. Prayer is very powerful! It's amazing what God puts in your path when you ask Him questions. Remember that clever little acronym PRAY I mentioned last time? Here it is again if you'd like to add it to your prayer life. Remember that prayer is not a box that you check...it's a step you take to get closer to God:
P is for PRAISE. Praise the name of God. Connect with Him before you ask Him anything. Tell Him who He is to you and how much He means to you.
R is for Repent. Ask God to forgive your sins and vow to make a change in your life. Let go of what is holding you back. 1 John 1:9.
A is for Ask. Go ahead and ask Him for anything that will help us honor Him. Ask for victory from sin. Ask for needs, protection, healing, help. He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7
Y is for Yield. Announce that you are yielding your will, spirit, and steps to Him. Tell Him He is LORD of your life!
4. Get out in Nature. There is something about a change in your environment that helps you to feel better when you are down. By going outside and experiencing the weather, seeing the beauty of the earth will help get the focus off of you and onto life around you. By doing this daily, you will begin to notice a peace settle on you as you begin to recognize how well everything works together in nature. God is in control of this universe and it's so comforting to know He is looking after us too!
5. Give Yourself Affirmations. Make and repeat positive statements to yourself frequently to help encourage you towards good habits. In a book I'm reading, Atomic Habits, James Clear writes "The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity." He says beliefs drive actions. If you tell yourself, "I am a healthy yoga instructor." You may begin to believe it. If you believe it, you may start acting like it. If you act like it, you may be rewarded by actually becoming what you hope to become. For me, I have been making better food choices and keeping up with my yoga practice.
6. Change Your Environment. Spend some time creating an environment that will help you do these things so that they become habits. You may want to join the Facebook group Excel Still More: A Chapter A Day and get notifications each morning. Leave out your Bible and Journal where you will notice it each day. Set an alarm on your phone for a special time when you can go for a walk outside and pray. Write your affirmations on post-it notes in places where you will see them. Just make your space where there are cues left all around for you to easily accommodate good habits that will help strengthen you.
7. Spend Time Connecting With People That Have Similiar Goals. You are being influenced by the people around you. Haven't you heard, "You're the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with" by Jim Rohn? Well, there must be something to that. When I'm around positive, uplifting people, I feel their energy. I want to be a better person and being around them makes me feel like I'm a better person. It's so refreshing! Look for people that you can get to know better that will strengthen and encourage you. If you don't have anyone, I highly recommend listening to some positive podcasts. I listen to them while I get ready in the morning, while I'm driving in my car, and sometimes in the evening when I fix supper. It's very motivational!
8. Place Yourself in Circumstances Where You Are Vulnerable. When I was in yoga training, I was tasked with creating a 15-minute yoga session as an assignment. I chose to do what I called "Fierce 15". It was 15 minutes of music that made me feel empowered as a burn survivor and gave me a real workout. I wanted to do away with my long sleeves and wear a something cooler along with everyone else in class. I knew if I was going to ask them to do hard things and try new poses, I would need to be vulnerable too. So, I did it. It was the very 1st time I had made my arms available for everyone to see. Up to that point, it had only been my family or doctors. I was jittery and nervous, but soon the breathwork settled me down and I was having fun! The next week, I attended a hot yoga class for part of my 40 hours needed, and I went in a tank top. Ever since then, I have had little sessions where I have worn short sleeves or a tank top. This is HUGE. I have grown as a person by allowing myself to be vulnerable.
9. Listen to Positive Podcasts. There have been days when I would have drag myself out of bed and go for a walk while listening to posistive podcasts. It would give me something to focus on instead of feeling self pity. I would often find some little gem that I could add to my own life. Many times I would notice the gem was something I could do to help me accompish something I had read in my Bible. There is no substitute for God's word, but I do think we can learn tips from others as well. The Bible talks quite a bit about giving thanks. (Psalm 107:15 is a great verse to memorize for this.). One podcast I listened to helped me become more intentional with giving thanks to God or developing GRATITUDE. I used the tip of setting an alarm to go off on my phone at a certain time each day so that I would devote a moment to giving thanks. Here's a link to that podcast Achieve Your Goals by Hal Elrod:
10. Pour into Others. On any given day when I feel like I am slipping into the pit of depression, anxiety, or despair, I begin thinking of someone ANYONE I might be able to help in some way. Sometimes I pray for them. Other times I text them. Sometimes I go looking for one of my kids and see what they are up to and try to plug in and see how they are doing. If you can train your mind to look outside yourself, you will see that so many people need you. You are here for a reason, and it is not to live in misery.
Ok. How's that for a list to get you started on helping you improve your inner strength off the yoga mat? I encourage yogis to look for ways to incorporate what happens on the mat into what's going on in your life. In my yoga classes, I like to set an intention at the start of each class. If I want to work on inner strength, I might set an intention to recite my memory verse while in Mountain Pose each time. Or maybe I recite my affirmation while in plank. Later in the day, I may be feeling spiritually weak and remind myself the way it felt to be grounded and strong while in Mountain Pose. I can recite my verse again and vow to stand on the promises of God. Or when I'm struggling with things, I can remember back to when I was in plank holding myself up as I said my affirmation. It may just give you more confidence.
Stay Prayerful Friends!
1 Thessalonians 5:18 "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." Bible KJV